Expressions of Christmas: Mary
December 13, 2015
Rev. Michael F. Bailey
Merry Christmas, Happy Christmas, Holly Jolly Christmas! There are all kinds of expressions people use during this time of year. There were expressions in the first Christmas as well – expressions of power, expressions of dedication and obedience, and today, with Mary, we hear an expression of joy.
You remember, I’m sure, the sequence of events in Luke. A great deal of the first chapter is about the forthcoming birth of John the Baptist and all the events surrounding his birth. Mary has been told by the angel Gabriel that she will have a child through the power of the Holy Spirit and that her child will be the Son of God. Moreover, as a sort of proof, Gabriel told Mary that her elderly kinswoman, Elizabeth, has also conceived a son. Mary arose and went to Elizabeth and Zechariah’s house. The babe in Elizabeth’s womb leapt with joy upon hearing Mary’s greeting. It was then that Mary offered her words, verses shaped as a hymn of praise.
Her beautiful hymn, strikingly like Hannah’s in first Samuel, has so much to say to us as Mary’s expression at the first Christmas, but let’s focus on what her words teach us about our Advent focus today; joy.
Mary sang, “my spirit rejoices in God my savior.” What a defining and meaningful phrase for Mary and for us today. I mean, how in the world could Mary say anything about joy given the circumstances she was in and what she faced? She was betrothed to Joseph; a relational state so serious that it could be ended only by divorce. She was pregnant by the Holy Spirit in a culture that could have easily put her to death for adultery. At this point in the narrative, she hasn’t talked with Joseph about the situation; that has to be something that caused her some fear about her future. She is temporarily away from the prying eyes and wagging tongues of her home village while at Elizabeth’s home, but will be returning to her village, un-wed and three months pregnant. We can only imagine what that would be like. She lives in a land that was to be the Promised Land for God’s chosen people but is under the rule of pagan Rome’s military dictatorship. Her country has an evil, murderous King, Herod the Great, kept in place by the Romans. Mary is a woman in a time and place where women were little more than property. Moreover, she was likely poor, as most of the people in her day were. Disease could wipe out a village in a heartbeat and starvation was just a bad crop away. How, with these circumstances, could Mary sing of her soul rejoicing?
For that matter, given corporate and individual circumstances some live with today, how can there be any suggestion of joy on this Sunday in Advent? Think of it: there are those who live in brokenness – of body, mind, emotion, relationship or economy. Some have great fear about their future – wondering about jobs, their budget or just life in general. Many enter this season with grief and we have our service to help with that tonight. Globally, we live in a world with evil erupting at every point of the compass, even our own shores. We seem to have made little progress with hunger, poverty, disease and homelessness. We live in a day marked by rampant distrust of, well, everyone. How, with these circumstances, can we join with Mary in talk of souls rejoicing?
We don’t rejoice regarding these circumstances; we simply can’t. To do so would be a disingenuous, happy face “faking of it.” We can, though, have joy through the circumstances of our lives. At least that’s what Mary did and our text reveals it. The second phrase of her rejoicing verse is so, so important: Mary rejoices in “God, my savior” and so can we! You know as well as I do that the world often uses the words joy and happiness interchangeably. In the world’s defining of joy and happiness, everything hinges on the right circumstances; events and people aligning the way you want them to be. You win the lottery, get a promotion from your boss or receive an inheritance from a relative you didn’t know you had – those persons and events, those circumstances, make you happy. But soon the glow wears off! Circumstances change, people don’t do what you’d like them to do and once again you’re un-happy. It’s like a roller-coaster, really. But Christian joy is something different; Christian joy can deeply touch our emotions, but doesn’t always have to. The reality is, joy is less of a feeling than it is a fact, a truth and a reality of it’s own, beyond any human emotion. Christian joy has its foundation in the deep assurance, the deep faith, in the faithfulness of “God, my Savior.” We may be weak, battered and bruised inside and out; our faith may not be high or even something we can get in touch with; our hearts may be in the sinking sand; but we know that Jesus loves us still! We know that He loves us in our tomorrows. We know that His are the everlasting arms we lean on. He is the solid rock upon which we stand in a shattered world. And with Mary, as she expresses in the body of her hymn, we know that He is going to set the world right from all its injustices and that He is going to exalt those who are low or are feeling low. And that includes us. And because of who He is, not who we are, and because of what He has, is, and will do, our soul joins Mary’s in rejoicing in God our Savior. And no circumstances of life, no giddy feelings or empty feelings, can ever change that fact. Because Immanuel lives, we can face tomorrow in and with the truth, the fact, the reality of Christian joy.